United States v. Jones

Decision Date16 June 2020
Docket Number No. 19-12847,No. 19-11505, No. 19-10758, No. 19-11955,19-11505
Citation962 F.3d 1290
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Steven JONES, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Alfonso Allen, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Warren Lavell Jackson, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Thomas Johnson, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Scott Alan Gray, U.S. Attorney Service-Southern District of Alabama, U.S. Attorney's Office, Mobile, AL, for Plaintiff-Appellee in 19-11505.

Carlos Alfredo Williams, Patricia Vanessa Kemp, Joseph M. Powers, Federal Defender's Office, Mobile, AL, for Defendant-Appellant in 19-11505.

Jonathan Colan, Lisa Tobin Rubio, Emily M. Smachetti, U.S. Attorney Service-Southern District of Florida, U.S. Attorney Service-SFL, Miami, FL, Sivashree Sundaram, U.S. Attorney's Office, Fort Lauderdale, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee in 19-10758.

Andrew L. Adler, Federal Public Defender's Office, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Michael Caruso, Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office, Miami, FL, for Defendant-Appellant in 19-10758.

Alfonso Allen, Pro Se.

Jonathan Colan, Andrea G. Hoffman, Laura Thomas Rivero, Kathryn Dalzell, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lisa A. Hirsch, Emily M. Smachetti, U.S. Attorney Service-Southern District of Florida, U.S. Attorney Service-SFL, Miami, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee in 19-11955.

Michael Caruso, Tracy Michele Dreispul, Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office, Miami, FL, for Defendant-Appellant in 19-11955.

Jonathan Colan, Kathryn Dalzell, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Lisa Tobin Rubio, Emily M. Smachetti, U.S. Attorney Service-Southern District of Florida, U.S. Attorney Service-SFL, Miami, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee in 19-12847.

Brenda Greenberg Bryn, Jan Christopher Smith, II, Federal Public Defender's Office, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Michael Caruso, Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office, Miami, FL, for Defendant-Appellant in 19-12847.

Before WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge, GRANT, Circuit Judge, and JUNG,* District Judge.

WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge:

These appeals require us to determine whether the district courts erred in denying four motions for reduced sentences under the First Step Act of 2018. That Act permits district courts to apply retroactively the reduced statutory penalties for crack-cocaine offenses in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to movants sentenced before those penalties became effective. Steven Jones, Alfonso Allen, Warren Jackson, and Thomas Johnson were sentenced for crack-cocaine offenses before the effective date of the Fair Sentencing Act and sought reduced sentences under the First Step Act. The district courts denied their motions. We affirm the denials of relief to Jones and Jackson, and we vacate the denials of relief to Allen and Johnson and remand because their orders do not make clear that the district court understood that it could reduce the movants’ sentences.

I. BACKGROUND

Steven Jones, Alfonso Allen, Warren Jackson, and Thomas Johnson each relied on the First Step Act of 2018 to seek a sentence reduction in the district courts. The district courts denied their motions. Because these appeals raise common issues of first impression in our Circuit, we resolve them in one opinion.

In 1994, a grand jury charged Jones with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute "more than sixteen ... kilograms of cocaine and of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of [crack cocaine]," 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846, aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute "more than 600 grams of cocaine and of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of [crack cocaine]," id. § 841(a)(1), and traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to commit the crimes of "possession with intent to distribute and distribution of crack cocaine," id. , and later did perform an unlawful activity of distributing crack cocaine, 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a). A jury returned a general verdict that found him guilty of all three counts. But the jury made no specific drug-quantity finding because Jones was prosecuted before Apprendi v. New Jersey made clear that drug-quantity findings that increase a defendant's punishment must be made by a jury based on a standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt. 530 U.S. 466, 490, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000).

At sentencing, the district court found that Jones was responsible for at least 75 kilograms of crack cocaine. Jones's statutory range for counts one and two was 10 years to life imprisonment. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (1994). His guideline range, with a total offense level of 43 and a criminal history category of I, was life imprisonment. The district court imposed a term of life imprisonment for counts one and two, and a term of 60 months of imprisonment for count three, all to run concurrently. It also imposed a five-year term of supervised release. Jones later filed several unsuccessful challenges of his convictions and sentence.

In 2019, Jones filed a motion for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act. He argued that he was eligible for a sentence reduction based on the statutory penalties in section 841(b)(1)(C) because the district court could consider only the drug quantity that a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt based on Alleyne v. United States , which held that Apprendi applies to facts that increase a defendant's statutory mandatory-minimum sentence. 570 U.S. 99, 116, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013). The district court denied his motion. It ruled that Jones was responsible for at least 75 kilograms of crack cocaine, and the First Step Act did not allow him to relitigate that finding. Jones filed a motion for reconsideration that again argued only that he was entitled to relief because the district court must apply the reduced penalties in section 841(b)(1)(C), and the district court denied that motion.

In 2006, a grand jury charged Allen with one count of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(iii), 846 (2006), two counts of distributing a detectable amount of crack cocaine, id. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) ; 18 U.S.C. § 2, one count of possession with intent to distribute a detectable amount of powder cocaine, crack cocaine, and marijuana, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C)(D) ; 18 U.S.C. § 2, possession of a short-barreled shotgun in furtherance of a felony drug offense, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 924(c)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B)(i), possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, id. §§ 2, 922(g)(1), and possession of an unregistered short-barreled shotgun, 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d) ; 18 U.S.C. § 2. Before trial, the government filed notice of its intent to rely on Allen's two prior felony drug convictions to enhance his sentence. See 21 U.S.C. § 851(a). A jury convicted Allen on all counts and made a drug-quantity finding of 50 grams or more of crack cocaine for count one.

At sentencing, Allen's conviction for conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine carried a statutory mandatory sentence of life imprisonment because of his two prior felony drug convictions. See id. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (2006). Allen's criminal history classified him as a career offender under the Guidelines. See United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a) (Nov. 2008). With a total offense level of 37 and a criminal history category of VI, id. § 4B1.1(b)(A), Allen's guideline range would have been 360 months to life imprisonment, but because of his statutory mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, his guideline sentence became life imprisonment, id. § 5G1.1(b). The district court sentenced Allen to a term of life imprisonment for the count involving the 50 grams of crack cocaine, 30 years of imprisonment for the other three drug counts, 10 years of imprisonment for two of the firearm counts, all to run concurrently, and a consecutive term of 10 years of imprisonment for the final firearm count. The district court also imposed a 10-year term of supervised release. After Allen filed several unsuccessful challenges to his convictions and sentence, the President commuted his sentence to 360 months of imprisonment in 2016.

In 2019, Allen filed a motion for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act. He argued that with the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act and his commutation, his statutory and guideline ranges would be lower than when he was sentenced. The district court denied the motion and ruled that "[t]he retroactive change in the law does not benefit Allen" because he had been "responsible for selling between 420 and 784 grams of crack cocaine per week" and would still be subject to a guideline range of 360 months to life imprisonment.

In 1999, a grand jury charged Jackson with one count of possessing with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Before trial, the government filed notice of its intent to rely on Jackson's three prior felony drug convictions to enhance Jackson's sentence. See id. § 851(a). A jury convicted Jackson without making a drug-quantity finding.

At sentencing, the district court found that Jackson was responsible for 287 grams of crack cocaine. Jackson faced a statutory mandatory sentence of life imprisonment because of the drug quantity and his prior felony drug convictions. See id. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (1994). His guideline range would have been 235 to 293 months of imprisonment based on his total offense level of 34 and criminal history category of V, but his statutory mandatory sentence of life imprisonment mandated a guideline sentence of life imprisonment. See U.S.S.G. § 5G1.1(b) (1998). The district court sentenced Jackson to life imprisonment. After Jackson filed multiple unsuccessful challenges to his conviction and sentence, the President commuted his sentence to 300 months of imprisonment...

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